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60 years: KASU's History Part 1

For KASU, I’m Johnathan Reaves.  60 years ago, KASU signed on to the air with these words:

"Good afternoon, everyone.  KASU, an educational non-commercial radio station, now begins broadcast operations on this day, the seventeenth of May, 1957."       

Since that day, KASU has served many functions to the region and to then-Arkansas State College, which is now Arkansas State University.  KASU has served in educating the public, entertaining the public with a variety of programs, shows and sports, and informing the public during times of weather emergencies and important news stories.  Today, KASU serves as a 100-thousand watt FM station that carries a lot of programming from NPR, as well as local and regional news, highly successful music programs, and KASU also serves as a place where differing views can be presented on many topics and issues that are taking place in our world.  But, how did KASU get its start?  What was it like in the early days of broadcasting?  How did KASU come up with programming at that time?  What were some of the broadcasting “firsts” that KASU accomplished?  These questions and more will be examined over the next couple of stories. 

First, let’s go back in time…to the 1930s. (Play music here) The 1920’s through the 30’s were called the Golden Age of Radio.  Family members would gather around the radio to listen to programs, comedians, and news events.  President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats” helped the nation feel closer to their president, especially during the very tough economic times of the 1930s. 

In the 1930’s, Arkansas State College did not have a broadcast station on the air…but by 1935, a small broadcast facility was built that would give students a chance to get on the air.    The facility was located in Wilson Hall…students would create programming that would go to commercial station KBTM in Jonesboro for broadcast.    

In 1951, Dr. Carl R. Reng became the president of Arkansas State College.  Among the many things that Reng had a vision for, establishing an on-campus radio station was one of Reng’s priorities.  Charles Rasberry worked at Arkansas State from 1961 to 1988.  He retired as Chair of the Department of Radio-TV and was a former station manager of KASU.  In stories that Rasberry heard about the initial interest Dr. Reng had about a campus radio station, Dr. Reng wanted to start "a station that was an extension of the university, one that would entertain and educate listeners, and one that would train the next radio journalists."

Dr. Reng wanted to establish a curriculum that would teach students how to report stories for radio, as well as how to broadcast sporting events.  In 1953, John Ed Cramer was brought to Arkansas from Illinois to start a radio journalism program from scratch.  Cramer did not have a facility or equipment to teach students broadcasting…but he started organizing a curriculum by copying the efforts of Northwestern University.   In that year, 21 students enrolled in broadcasting classes, which included students producing broadcasts of Arkansas State football games for KBTM.  As classes continued and interest grew in the program, Arkansas State was able to get donated equipment and an Associated Press teletype was installed. 

1953 was also the year that Cramer contacted the Federal Communications Commission about applying for an application for a radio station on the campus of Arkansas State.  The next voice you will hear is from Richard Carvell.  Carvell was the former news director and station manager at KASU.  Carvell would join the faculty in 1973 and would eventually become the Chair of the Department of Radio-TV in 1988 after Charles Rasberry retired.  Carvell would be in that position until 2008.  

KASU’s application was approved by the FCC.  Soon after the approval, a one-bay antenna was placed on top of Wilson Hall, the equipment was tested, and on Friday, May 17th, 1957, the oldest non-commercial radio station in Arkansas signed on the air.  Tomorrow, we continue the story of the history of KASU.     

President of Arkansas State College, Dr. Carl R. Reng speaking.

Johnathan Reaves is the News Director for KASU Public Radio. As part of an Air Force Family, he moved to Arkansas from Minot, North Dakota in 1986. He was first bitten by the radio bug after he graduated from Gosnell High School in 1992. While working on his undergraduate degree, he worked at KOSE, a small 1,000 watt AM commercial station in Osceola, Arkansas. Upon graduation from Arkansas State University in 1996 with a degree in Radio-Television Broadcast News, he decided that he wanted to stay in radio news. He moved to Stuttgart, Arkansas and worked for East Arkansas Broadcasters as news director and was there for 16 years.